What is the difference between wood stain and paint ?

Wood stains and paints are similar in one sense that they help add rich color to wood. However, there are quite some differences that exist in the look and feel they offer and the application procedure.

Complete guide to wood staining

Paint forms a thin film on top of the wood on which it is being applied. Because of the formation of the even layer, the wooden piece gets a consistent look across its surface. This layer helps hide the blemishes on the wooden surface, which in turn eliminates the need to sand the wood with multiple grades of sand paper. Since the wood may not take in paint homogeneously across its surface, it is recommended to use a layer or two of primer before application of paint. The primer allows for uniform absorption of paint thereby giving the wood surface a smooth unvarying finish. Paints and primers normally have high drying time (close to 8 hrs or more) and are usually applied using brushes. Here is a short tutorial on how to use primer and paint on wood.
Wood stain vs paint

Wood stains, on the contrary, allow for the grain patterns on the wooden surface to be visible and enhanced on application. They fill in the pores and grooves on the wood thereby taking in the shape of the stained material. Since stains make the grains (and also the scratches) visible, it is necessary to sand the wooden surface to ensure there is absolutely no scratch / blemish on it. Stains may be directly applied on the wooden surface using a sponge or a clean rag cloth. However, as in the case of paints, the wood may not absorb the stain equally along its entire surface and hence the use of sealers is recommended before the application of stain. Sealers form an invisible film on the wood thereby allowing for equal absorption of stain. Stains have a quick drying time, somewhere between 10 to 30 minutes.

Paint / stain only add color to wood and does not protect wood. A final coating of varnish is usually recommended. Paint / stain is a personal choice and depends on the kind of look and feel one desires.

- Somu

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  1. With regards to paints, any experience working with PU paints. They are pretty expensive, sometimes more than the cost of the wood itself, but the fiber finish they give is good. Planning to use it, but if you have any experience using it, would be great.

  2. Look around your home. The floor may be oak or maple; the baseboard and window sills may be clear-finished pine, poplar or cherry.

  3. Thanks a lot for the explanation, I was really lost on the difference between them :O

  4. now I am confused, you said sealer before paint, does that mean primer, since I used primer first and then painted the plywood. Also, I have another set to paint or stain, though I was considering stain, I don't think it will be good since two different types of plywood has been used. Do let me know your thoughts?

  5. I love the work you guys are doing, you are an inspiration to many. I always wanted to do simple DIY stuff around the home, but it was difficult to take up projects without any information about raw materials in India.Not anymore ! I am trying to repaint some of my old furniture and your explanation really helps.

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